The Cumberland Culinary Center, a part of the Cumberland University system, is helping culinary entrepreneurs make their ambitions a reality, one jar of sauce at a time.

Opened in January of 2008 in Lebanon, Tennessee, the 2400-square foot facility boasts an array of equipment essential for safely preparing, processing and packaging the products of Tennessee- based businesses. The fully-equipped Center includes steam kettles, a six-burner stove, food processors, choppers, immersion blenders, pH testing equipment, food scales, jar fillers and induction sealers.

The result is a complete commercial kitchen that currently serves as the production home for BBQ Fight Club, Haze & Company, Ron Reed's Signature Barbeque Sauce Company, R&R Condiments, Smokey's Gourmet Products and Tennessee Gourmet. They provide items to a community hungry for local products made with quality ingredients.

Sue Sykes, owner and founder of Tennessee Gourmet products, also serves as the Culinary Center's director. Sykes reports that the average costs of purchasing and housing the commercial grade equipment necessary for a professional kitchen would total an investment of almost one million dollars. This investment would be beyond the means of most start-up culinary businesses. Utilizing the resources provided by the Center allows producers like Sykes and other culinary investors to lower wholesale costs thereby passing the savings on to the consumers in a competitive retail market. More importantly, the Center grants greater quality control over the final products.

Program participants have the advantage of the marketing power of Pick Tennessee Products, who list each of the users of the Cumberland Culinary Center on their website. Pick Tennessee Products also provides financial support, along with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Cumberland University, Performance Food Service, the Wilson County School System, former state representative Stratton Bone, the Lochinivar Corporation, Rock Bottom Nursery, Tennessee Gourmet and Lowe's.

Currently, the program relies on the funding provided by the key sponsors and the USDA. However, Sykes and Dr. Paul Skumb, of Cumberland University, have the Center on track to be profitable by the spring of 2014. Additional grants that would allow for improvements could bring profitability even sooner. Sykes and the team at the Center hope to add additional freezing and storage capability to allow farms to freeze their harvest at its peak and return late in the season for processing. Freezing effectively extends the season to year-round local eating.

Information on the Cumberland Culinary Center, including how to become a sponsoring partner or participating member can be found at: www.cumberland.edu/culinary_center .